The Packet Post Beacon Hill Update May 12, 2022

Beacon Hill Update May 12, 2022

by: Press Release

David Gauthier MassAccess
Thursday, May 12, 2022:

• As of Wednesday night, DPH reported a total of 1,653,674 cases of COVID-19.
• The state reported 3,996 new confirmed cases and 7 new deaths.
• The state now has 19,227 deaths from the virus.

• Legislative leaders have no plans to change House or Senate public health protocols amid a string of COVID-19 exposures in the last two and a half weeks tallying at least 21 confirmed cases.
• Senate President Karen Spilka’s office informed senators and staffers Wednesday that another four people who were in the State House in recent days had tested positive for the virus, the fourth time in the last 12 days that Senate leaders have announced confirmed cases linked to the building.
• The House, meanwhile, has notified its own representatives and staff about State House-related exposures in seven instances since April 1, three of which have occurred since April 25.
• Both chambers have mandates in place requiring lawmakers and employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend sessions in person, and they continue to enforce those measures. Senate leaders have said all senators and staff in their chamber fulfilled the requirements, while Mariano’s office said Wednesday that two unnamed representatives remain out of compliance, down from the four reported on March 22.
• Unlike earlier days of the pandemic, though, most residents are vaccinated against COVID-19 and treatments are available. More than 5.3 million Bay Staters have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 through Tuesday, reflecting more than three-quarters of the state’s population.

• Associated Industries of Massachusetts reported Monday that employers grew more confident in April despite high inflation and the economic contraction in the first quarter. The trade group’s business confidence index posted its third straight monthly gain, rising to 58.1 on a 100-point scale.
• Massachusetts companies remain optimistic about the sustainability of the economic expansion even amid tightening financial conditions and uncertainties related to COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.
• AIM analysts said Bay State businesses continue to be hampered by supply chain constraints and attributed price increases and material shortages locally at least in part to COVID lockdowns in China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
• Massachusetts has shown “economic resilience” and is ready to meet future needs in part to the work of its taxpayers, who have helped post record budget surpluses and build the state’s rainy day fund to $4.6 billion, with a $6.7 billion balance in the forecast.

• Leadership at the state’s Health Policy Commission sees a “really important policy opportunity” in a piece of Gov. Charlie Baker’s health care bill that deals with urgent care centers.
• Agency staff on Wednesday presented data on the use of urgent care centers and retail clinics, exploring recent growth, the areas they serve, and the entry of large chains into the local marketplace.
• Both types of sites offer care in settings that, in many cases, can be more convenient for patients than a doctor’s office or hospital emergency room, with walk-in options and extended hours available.
• The Health Policy Commission’s Sara Sadownik said there is some variation around how urgent care centers bill for their services.
• The bill (S 2774) that Baker filed in March broadly seeks to inject more resources into behavioral health and primary care, target health care cost drivers, and boost access to care. While legislative leaders in both branches have expressed interest in advancing health care legislation, the focus areas are different between the House and Senate, and Baker’s bill remains in the Health Care Financing Committee after an April hearing.

• Massachusetts budget writers are planning to push the balance of the state’s rainy day fund well beyond the rule of thumb that says a state should keep 10 percent of budgeted funds in reserve, part of a trend that Pew analysts have seen across the country since the start of the pandemic.
• There was $4.63 billion in the state’s stabilization fund at the end of the fiscal year 2021 and that balance is expected to grow to between $5.76 billion and $5.89 billion by the end of the current fiscal 2022 budget year. The House budget for fiscal 2023 would see the state’s savings account rise to $6.55 billion while the Senate’s plan would boost the fund up to $6.74 billion.
• In either case, Massachusetts would have more than 13 percent of annual budget spending stashed away in case of economic calamity.
• As of the end of fiscal 2021, Massachusetts had enough money socked away to run government operations for 45.6 days, better than the nationwide median of 34.4 days but still short of the GFOA recommendation of two months.
• The alternatives to socking so much money away include spending it to address unmet needs or adopting tax relief or incentives to help Massachusetts residents or making the state more competitive with other states.

• Warning that a long-term federal intervention at the MBTA could lead to fare hikes and service cuts, a transit advocacy group on Wednesday slammed the T’s board of directors for “lax oversight” and called on Beacon Hill to reimagine how Massachusetts funds the agency.
• The Federal Transit Administration plans to launch a nearly unprecedented safety inspection of the MBTA in the wake of a string of breakdowns, crashes, and fatal incidents, including a Red Line door malfunction on April 10 that killed rider Robinson Lalin.
• TransitMatters demanded that Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature “act now” through a transportation bond bill or budget bill to steer major additional funding to the MBTA – a step in which neither Baker nor top Democrats have voiced any interest.
• The FTA has confirmed that it is conducting a safety management inspection of the MBTA but declined to provide a copy of the letter outlining concerns or plans. A spokesperson who agreed to communicate only on background told a News Service reporter to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a copy.

• The robust return of crunching highway traffic to the greater Boston area might have made drivers miserable, but there’s a silver lining for transportation officials: many of those motorists are pouring money into the state’s coffers.
• Through the first three quarters of the fiscal year 2022, the Department of Transportation hauled in $306.5 million from roadway tolls, nearly $70 million more than over the same period a year earlier. The surge positions MassDOT to end the year with $76 million more in toll revenue than it expected.
• Standing in stark contrast with still-depleted ridership on public transit, drivers have been using tolled roadways in large enough volumes that MassDOT officials now expect to bring in about 95 percent as much in tolls this year as they did in fiscal year 2019.
• Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature are poised to increase the amount of state assistance the T receives by $60 million in the next annual budget, but neither he nor top Democrats have expressed an interest in rethinking broader funding questions for the agency.

• A group officially kicked off a ballot campaign Wednesday for the proposed surtax on household income over $1 million.
• The campaign launched a new website, www.FairShareMA.com, and has organized canvasses in seven cities around Massachusetts this coming weekend, Mariani said. The group’s ballot question campaign committee reported having $68,637.89 on hand as this year started. Meanwhile, the ballot question committee organized to oppose the effort, the Coalition for A Strong Massachusetts Economy, reported $286,900.59 on hand at the end of 2021.
• Democrats on Beacon Hill have been pursuing the tax policy change for years, despite largely steering clear of changes to the state’s two big taxes – sales and income – since 2009, when the Legislature raised the sales tax rate from 5 percent to 6.25 percent.
• Within the Legislature, Republican leaders like Rep. Brad Jones and Sen. Bruce Tarr have cautioned that the surtax will likely affect more than just the taxpayers who already report household income over $1 million and warned that it could lead to an exodus of wealthy Bay Staters.

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